Miraculous cathedral inside all that crystal?

Well, dang it. I really got my hopes up that the editorial team at The Los Angeles Times was going to write the Crystal Cathedral news feature that I have been waiting with bated breath to read. Not this time.

As you would imagine, the sale of the most famous Protestant sanctuary in Southern California (and one of the most famous in the world) to the Catholic Diocese of Orange County is a rather big story in greater Los Angeles, on every conceivable level -- in terms of money, history, symbolism, ecumenism, real estate and, yes, Catholic architecture. Yes, there is a big story waiting to be written about the way that liturgy, sacrament, art and music will or will not interact inside this particular sacred space.

In other words, I was hoping for some early clues as to what the diocese plans to do with this building and its 10,000 panes of glass as they change it from a TV-friendly, sort-of evangelical megachurch into an real, live Catholic cathedral. I assume that some possible remodeling plans were presented to the Vatican, before Roman authorities signed off on the purchase.

Yes, I would imagine that those sketches and plans (if I am right that they exist) are being closely guarded. Nevertheless, I was hoping that the Los Angeles Times would find a way to cover some of those issues, even if only at a theoretical level.

Alas, that would be "no."

This is not to say that this long feature doesn't do a good job of covering most of the other news angles linked to this story, including how the booming growth of the diocese and the economics of the clergy sex-abuse scandal era affected Orange County Bishop Tod Brown's quest to build a real cathedral for his flock. I was especially glad that the Rev. Robert H. Schuller -- the most mainline voice from the TV-evangelist era -- agreed to be interviewed.

This sale is symbolic on several levels and everyone knows it, including the bishop and Schuller. Here's the heart of the story.

Such cooperation between Catholic and Protestant faiths was once unimaginable in American Christianity. In a rare interview, Schuller told The Times that he never saw it that way.

"I think it could have happened 20 years ago because I haven't changed," he said. "It's who I have always been."

The 85-year-old minister, who became the pivotal unifying force in the bankruptcy sale, said he has always respected the Roman Catholic faith and considers it the "mother church." Schuller also said he drew inspiration for his "Hour of Power" from Catholic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose own popular TV show in the 1950s paved the way.

"The Roman Catholic Church isn't going to change its theologies," Schuller said. "I trust them."

Still, Brown's tenacious pursuit of one of the most recognizable Protestant symbols surprised many, even Brown himself, who said the idea "never crossed my mind" until several lay advisors approached him. After all, he had long planned to build a cathedral in Santa Ana for an estimated $200 million in response to the booming Catholic population. He even hired an architect last year.

But he quickly saw the bankruptcy as a chance to fulfill his dream in a different way and began a bidding war for the church property with Chapman University.

In the final 24 hours, Brown said that even he thought "it was all over." Then Schuller, who had won over millions of believers through his credo of "possibility thinking," told the court he could not abide the thought that Chapman might someday use the cathedral for nonreligious purposes. The deal was struck.

Read it all and, when you do, brace yourself for one oh-so-familiar stumble near the end. I'm almost sorry to have to bring this one up.

Who can spot it?

Father Al Baca, Brown's chief ecumenical officer, said Christian leaders -- including Orange County-based evangelist Rick Warren -- praised the deal, and were praying for it to go through.

"These are the kind of things that maybe 25 years ago would have been impossible," he said.

Brown doesn't disagree.

"This was an incredible surprise," he said. "For us, it was certainly the work of a minor miracle."

Well, the Rev. Rick Warren is a lot of things, but I think the Times meant to say that he is an "evangelical," not an "evangelist."

Warren is a local pastor, an author, a bit of a social activist, a global church networker and a Twitter superstar. However, I am not aware that this Southern Baptist leader is someone who has made it his regular practice to stage evangelistic crusades (although I would bet he has helped others do so) with himself in the pulpit. I am sure that he is an effective face-to-face evangelist, but that is perhaps the last thing one would think The Times would use as his identifying characteristic in a story of this kind.

So he isn't an evangelist based in Orange County. He's the leader of the OTHER world-famous evangelical megachurch in Orange County. Right? He's based in a church. He's a pastor.

What is it that makes "evangelical" such a hard word for journalists to understand, other than the fact that evangelical leaders cannot seem to agree on the doctrinal content of that word?

Please respect our Commenting Policy